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Medically reviewed on July 17, 2017

Scientific Name(s): Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil. Family: Aquifoliaceae

Common Name(s): Maté , chimarrao , erva-mate , Jesuit's tea , Paraguay tea , St. Bartholomew's tea , terere , yerba maté


Maté has been traditionally used as a caffeine- and vitamin-containing beverage for its stimulant, diuretic, and depurative properties. Anticancer and antiatherosclerosis effects, largely because of antioxidant action, have also been suggested. Clinical trials are lacking.


Maté is widely used as a beverage; however, there are no clinical applications for maté to form a basis for dosing.


Contraindications have not yet been identified.


Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. Low birth weight, birth defects, and premature birth have been recorded. High concentrations of the alkaloid theobromine have been found in the placenta, cord serum, neonatal urine, and breast milk.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Case reports exist of neonatal withdrawal syndrome because of long-term maternal maté drinking. Symptoms included increased irritability, crying, and hypertonia in the limbs.


Epidemiological studies suggest an association of high maté consumption (more than 1 L per day) with cancer, especially head, neck, and bladder cancers; however, data are conflicting. Confounding factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, were also common in these studies, and the role of thermal-induced injury and wood smoke in the processing of the leaves have also not been addressed.


Maté is a beverage prepared from the leathery leaves of I. paraguariensis , a species of the holly family found in Central and South America. The genus Ilex includes over 400 species of trees and shrubs, many of which are used as ornamentals. They have alternate, simple leaves and single or clustered small berries that may be red, black, or yellow. Ilex species require a relatively wet, moderate climate and are found worldwide except in polar regions. 1 , 2


Yerba maté was used traditionally as a beverage for its depurative properties (to promote cleansing and excretion of waste), stimulant, and diuretic properties by the indigenous peoples of Brazil and Paraguay; however, I. paraguariensis was first cultivated by Jesuit missionaries in these regions. Consumption of maté is common in Brazil south of the Amazon and in Paraguay and Argentina, where it largely replaces coffee and tea. Preparations are commercially available in the United States in health food stores and online.

The raw leaves are not consumed, but are harvested from May through September and flash heated to halt enzymatic processes. The leaves are then wood smoked, dried, and aged, processes that alter the chemical composition and flavor of the resultant powder. Traditionally, yerba maté is served in a small gourd called a maté and consumed through a drinking tube, or bombilla, with a filter attached to the lower end to prevent consumption of leaf fragments. Burnt sugar, lemon juice, or milk may be used to flavor the infusion. 2 , 3


I. paraguariensis contains polyphenols and caffeoyl derivatives, including caffetannin, that yield caffeic acid when hydrolyzed, and chlorogenic, neochlorogenic, and isochlorogenic acids. The polyphenol content, dependent on processing methods, differs from that of green tea because it does not contain catechins, yet has a high concentration of chlorgenic acid, which is considered responsible for the antioxidant activity.

Xanthines, including theophylline (0.02%), caffeine (0.56%), and theobromine (0.03%), are found in the waxy leaves and the woody stems of the plant.

The fruits of I. paraguariensis contain the anthocyanins cyanidin-3-xylosylglucoside and cyanidin-3-glucoside. The leaves contain rutin, and alpha-amyrin, trigonelline, choline and ursolic acid. Maté has been shown to contain sterols resembling cholesterol and ergosterol. More than 15 amino acids are present in the leaves. Oil from the seeds contains lauric, palmitic, arachidic, stearic, palmitoleic, oleic, and linoleic acids.

Saponins, which are responsible for maté's unique flavor, have been identified. The carbohydrates sucrose, raffinose, glucose, and levulose are present in maté, as well as vitamins C, B 1 and B 5 , and the carotenoids nicotinic acid and carotene. Mineral elements include aluminum, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, potassium, and zinc. Toxic contaminants and adulterants have been found in maté powder. 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 , 10

Uses and Pharmacology

Aside from the caffeine content, antioxidant action has been responsible for the observed effects of maté consumption. Maté may be a better source of antioxidants than green tea or red wine and is also stronger than extracts from other Ilex species. 2 , 11

Peroxidase-like activity due to the polyphenol content (especially chlorogenic and caffeic acid) has been demonstrated, 11 , 12 as well as inhibition of oxidative and nitrosative stress in vitro in liver and heart tissue. 11 , 13 Inhibition of lipid peroxidation and prevention of peroxide-induced DNA damage in liver, kidney, and bladder tissues have also been shown in vitro, 2 , 14 , 15 and decreased advanced glycation end-product formation in hyperglycemia models has been demonstrated. 12 , 16 However, clinical evidence of a protective function suggested in these in vitro studies is lacking.


The lipolytic effects of caffeine and the interference of saponins in cholesterol absorption and metabolism may influence lipid profile and thereby protect against atherosclerosis. 2 , 8 , 17

Animal experiments have shown inconsistent results in the effect of maté extracts on lipid profile and serum glucose. In some studies, serum cholesterol and triglycerides are reduced with maté consumption. 15 , 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 Clinical trials are lacking.


Limited in vitro and animal experiments, including the inhibition of oral carcinoma cell growth, suggest a cancer protective effect of I. paraguariensis extracts. Proposed mechanisms include inhibition of proteasome, topoisomerase, aromatase, and reactive oxygen species, and antiangiogenic effects. 2 , 6 , 9 , 15 , 21 , 22


Animal experiments suggest a nondopaminergic effect on induced catalepsy and dyskinesia, possibly due to antagonism of adenosine. Improvements in short-term memory have been demonstrated in rodents, while a potential caffeine effect on the CNS has been recognized. 23 , 24 , 25 , 26


Maté is widely used as a beverage; however, there are no clinical applications for maté to form a basis for dosing. A typical amount of caffeine in an average maté-round is approximately 100 mg, 7 and use of maté for fatigue has been suggested at 3 g daily; however, some epidemiological studies suggest an association of high maté consumption (greater than 1 L per day) with cancer. 2 , 26 , 27 , 28


Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. Low birth weight, birth defects, and premature birth have been recorded. 29

A cross-sectional study found no association with preterm birth or small-for-gestational-weight outcomes when confounders (ie, smoking) were removed from the analysis. 30


Data are lacking. Potentiation of the effects of caffeine and theophylline could be theorized.

Adverse Reactions

There are case reports of neonatal withdrawal syndrome because of long-term maternal maté drinking, with high concentrations of theobromine found in the placenta, cord serum, neonatal urine, and breast milk. Symptoms included increased irritability, crying, and hypertonia in the limbs. 31


Epidemiological case-control studies suggest an association of high maté consumption (greater than 1 L per day) with cancer, especially head and neck and bladder cancers; however, data are conflicting. Confounding factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption, are common in these studies, and the role of thermal-induced injury and wood smoke in the processing of the leaves have also not been addressed. 2 , 28 , 30 , 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 , 36

Limited in vitro studies suggest that polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons may play a role in carcinogenesis. 33 Both antiangiogenesis and provascular properties have been demonstrated for maté extracts; while mutagenicity and genotoxicity (but not clastogenicity or aneugenicity) have been demonstrated in bacterial and human lymphocyte cell assays. 2 , 6 , 37

Seven cases of anticholinergic poisoning, some later reversed by physostigmine, occurred within 2 hours of ingestion of a commercial tea product labeled as “Paraguay tea.” However, it was found that a contaminant containing belladonna alkaloids caused the ill effects. 38


1. Ilex paraguariensis A. St.-Hil. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database ( , January 2010). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
2. Heck CI, de Mejia EG. Yerba Mate Tea ( Ilex paraguariensis ): a comprehensive review on chemistry, health implications, and technological considerations. J Food Sci . 2007;72(9):R138-R151.
3. Alikaridis F. Natural constituents of Ilex species. J Ethnopharmacol . 1987;20(2):121-144.
4. Vázquez A, Moyna P. Studies on mate drinking. J Ethnopharmacol . 1986;18(3):267-272.
5. Tenorio Sanz MD, Torija Isasa ME. Mineral elements in mate herb ( Ilex paraguariensis St. H. ) [in Spanish]. Arch Latinoam Nutr . 1991;41(3):441-454.
6. Strassmann BB, Vieira AR, Pedrotti EL, Morais HN, Dias PF, Maraschin M. Quantitation of methylxanthinic alkaloids and phenolic compounds in mate ( Ilex paraguariensis ) and their effects on blood vessel formation in chick embryos. J Agric Food Chem . 2008;56(18):8348-8353.
7. Xu GH, Kim YH, Choo SJ, et al. Chemical constituents from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis inhibit human neutrophil elastase. Arch Pharm Res . 2009;32(9):1215-1220.
8. Sugimoto S, Nakamura S, Yamamoto S, et al. Brazilian natural medicines. III. structures of triterpene oligoglycosides and lipase inhibitors from mate, leaves of ilex paraguariensis . Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) . 2009;57(3):257-261.
9. Gnoatto SC, Dassonville-Klimpt A, Da Nascimento S, et al. Evaluation of ursolic acid isolated from Ilex paraguariensis and derivatives on aromatase inhibition. Eur J Med Chem . 2008;43(9):1865-1877.
10. Vieira MA, Rovaris AA, Maraschin M, et al. Chemical characterization of candy made of Erva-Mate ( Ilex paraguariensis A. St. Hil.) residue. J Agric Food Chem . 2008;56(12):4637-4642.
11. Bixby M, Spieler L, Menini T, Gugliucci A. Ilex paraguariensis extracts are potent inhibitors of nitrosative stress: a comparative study with green tea and wines using a protein nitration model and mammalian cell cytotoxicity. Life Sci . 2005;77(3):345-358.
12. Gugliucci A, Bastos DH, Schulze J, Souza MF. Caffeic and chlorogenic acids in Ilex paraguariensis extracts are the main inhibitors of AGE generation by methylglyoxal in model proteins. Fitoterapia . 2009;80(6):339-344.
13. Schinella G, Fantinelli JC, Mosca SM. Cardioprotective effects of Ilex paraguariensis extract: evidence for a nitric oxide-dependent mechanism. Clin Nutr . 2005;24(3):360-366.
14. Miranda DD, Arçari DP, Pedrazzoli J Jr., et al. Protective effects of mate tea ( Ilex paraguariensis ) on H2O2-induced DNA damage and DNA repair in mice. Mutagenesis . 2008;23(4):261-265.
15. Martins F, Suzan AJ, Cerutti SM, et al. Consumption of mate tea ( Ilex paraguariensis ) decreases the oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids in mouse liver. Br J Nutr . 2009;101(4):527-532.
16. Lunceford N, Gugliucci A. Ilex paraguariensis extracts inhibit AGE formation more efficiently than green tea. Fitoterapia . 2005;76(5):419-427.
17. Pang J, Choi Y, Park T. Ilex paraguariensis extract ameliorates obesity induced by high-fat diet: potential role of AMPK in the visceral adipose tissue. Arch Biochem Biophys . 2008;476(2):178-185.
18. Mosimann AL, Wilhelm-Filho D, da Silva EL. Aqueous extract of Ilex paraguariensis attenuates the progression of atherosclerosis in cholesterol-fed rabbits. Biofactors . 2006;26(1):59-70.
19. Paganini Stein FL, Schmidt B, Furlong EB, et al. Vascular responses to extractable fractions of Ilex paraguariensis in rats fed standard and high-cholesterol diets. Biol Res Nurs . 2005;7(2):146-156.
20. Oliveira DM, Freitas HS, Souza MF, et al. Yerba Maté ( Ilex paraguariensis ) aqueous extract decreases intestinal SGLT1 gene expression but does not affect other biochemical parameters in alloxan-diabetic Wistar rats. J Agric Food Chem . 2008;56(22):10527-10532.
21. Gonzalez de Mejia E, Song YS, Ramirez-Mares MV, Kobayashi H. Effect of yerba mate ( Ilex paraguariensis ) tea on topoisomerase inhibition and oral carcinoma cell proliferation. J Agric Food Chem . 2005;53(6):1966-1973.
22. Arbiser JL, Li XC, Hossain CF, et al. Naturally occurring proteasome inhibitors from mate tea ( Ilex paraguayensis ) serve as models for topical proteasome inhibitors. J Invest Dermatol . 2005;125(2):207-212.
23. Milioli EM, Cologni P, Santos CC, et al. Effect of acute administration of hydroalcohol extract of Ilex paraguariensis St Hilaire (Aquifoliaceae) in animal models of Parkinson's disease. Phytother Res . 2007;21(8):771-776.
24. Colpo G, Trevisol F, Teixeira AM, et al. Ilex paraguariensis has antioxidant potential and attenuates haloperidol-induced orofacial dyskinesia and memory dysfunction in rats. Neurotox Res . 2007;12(3):171-180.
25. Prediger RD, Fernandes MS, Rial D, et al. Effects of acute administration of the hydroalcoholic extract of mate tea leaves ( Ilex paraguariensis ) in animal models of learning and memory. J Ethnopharmacol . 2008;120(3):465-473.
26. Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs . Boston, MA: American Botanical Council, 1998.
27. Loria D, Barrios E, Zanetti R. Cancer and yerba mate consumption: a review of possible associations. Rev Panam Salud Publica . 2009;25(6):530-539.
28. Goldenberg D, Golz A, Joachims HZ. The beverage maté: a risk factor for cancer of the head and neck. Head Neck . 2003;25(7):595-601.
29. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109(3):227-235.
30. Santos IS, Matijasevich A, Valle NC. Mate drinking during pregnancy and risk of preterm and small for gestational age birth. J Nutr . 2005;135(5):1120-1123.
31. Martín I, López-Vílchez MA, Mur A, et al. Neonatal withdrawal syndrome after chronic maternal drinking of mate. Ther Drug Monit . 2007;29(1):127-129.
32. Sewram V, De Stefani E, Brennan P, Boffetta P. Maté consumption and the risk of squamous cell esophageal cancer in uruguay. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev . 2003;12(6):508-513.
33. Kamangar F, Schantz MM, Abnet CC, Fagundes RB, Dawsey SM. High levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in mate drinks. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev . 2008;17(5):1262-1268.
34. Vassallo A, Correa P, De Stéfani E, et al. Esophageal cancer in Uruguay: a case-control study. J Natl Cancer Inst . 1985;75(6):1005-1009
35. De Stefani E, Boffetta P, Deneo-Pellegrini H, et al. Non-alcoholic beverages and risk of bladder cancer in Uruguay. BMC Cancer . 2007;7:57.
36. Bates MN, Hopenhayn C, Rey OA, Moore LE. Bladder cancer and mate consumption in Argentina: a case-control study. Cancer Lett . 2007;246(1-2):268-273.
37. Alves RJ, Jotz GP, do Amaral VS, Montes TM, Menezes HS, de Andrade HH. The evaluation of maté ( Ilex paraguariensis ) genetic toxicity in human lymphocytes by the cytokinesis-block in the micronucleus assay. Toxicol In Vitro . 2008;22(3):695-698.
38. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anticholinergic poisoning associated with an herbal tea--New York City, 1994. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep . 1995;44(11):193-195.

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